Health chiefs only have monkeypox vaccine doses for 10,000 Brits

Britain is NOT geared up for any bigger monkeypox vaccination drive in event current outbreak worsens, experts fear: Health chiefs have only bought enough doses for 10,000 people

  • EXCLUSIVE: Ministers already have 5,000 stockpiled jabs but have only bought an additional 20,000 doses
  • Close contacts of all 80 infected in the UK are being offered the jab, including NHS workers who treated them
  • Health chiefs have yet to widen the rollout but leading scientists hinted it could target gay and bisexual men
  • Professor Paul Hunter, infectious disease expert, said scheme should expand if cases still rising in a fortnight
  • He said next sensible step is to offer jabs to men who have sex with men, female sex workers and NHS staff
  • Liberal Democrat MPs have called for the Government to be ‘totally transparent’ about its preparations

Britain is not prepared to embark on a mass monkeypox vaccination scheme if the current outbreak continues to spiral, experts fear.

Sajid Javid has already ordered health chiefs to stockpile more jabs, as MailOnline revealed last week. But only an extra 20,000 have been bought — enough to inoculate around 10,000 Britons, given that it is administered in two doses. The UK only had around 5,000 doses before May, sources say. 

Close contacts of all 80 people infected in the UK are already being offered the jab, including all NHS workers who treated them.

Officials have yet to widen out the vaccination strategy but leading scientists have suggested the next step could involve a targeted rollout to gay and bisexual men, given a ‘notable proportion’ of cases spotted so far have been among that community.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline the programme will need to broaden if cases are still rising in a fortnight.

He claimed the next sensible step was to offer jabs to men who have sex with men, as well as female sex workers and some NHS staff. The move, if signed off by the UK Health Security Agency, may see vaccines given to tens of thousands of people.

Liberal Democrat MPs have called for the Government to be ‘totally transparent’ about its preparations to ensure monkeypox ‘does not become a serious threat’.

Nineteen countries across the world – mainly in Europe – have already detected the smallpox-like virus, sparking alarm across the planet. Until now, infections were only detected sporadically outside of west and central Africa, where the virus is endemic in animals.

Some scientists have suggested that the virus may have been spreading silently in the UK since 2018, and that the current flare-up may have actually taken off ‘by chance’  after entering ‘the population that is at present amplifying transmission’.

It comes as monkeypox spread to all four UK nations, with health chiefs in Northern Ireland and Wales confirming this morning that they had detected cases. The UKHSA is understood to be considering an online dashboard that tracks case numbers — a method which sparked controversy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ministers are expected to tell those with an unusual rash — a tell-tale sign of monkeypox — to stay away from their pets. Experts have raised alarm that spread to cats, dogs and other pets may allow monkeypox to become endemic among animals in Britain — as it is in Africa — and trigger sporadic outbreaks. 

UK health chiefs, who yesterday confirmed the number infected Britons had hit 78, are understood to be planning an online dashboard that tracks case numbers — a method which sparked controversy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The smallpox vaccine, called Imvanex in the UK and Jynneos in the US, can protect against monkeypox because the viruses causing the illnesses are related

Monkeypox may have been spreading under the radar for years, a former World Health Organization official warned as confirmed cases continue to rise worldwide. 

Professor David Heymann said the tropical virus, which usually only spreads in west and central Africa, may have been imported to the UK as far back as four years ago.

The UK logged its first two monkeypox cases in September 2018 among people who recently travelled to Nigeria. One of their contacts, a NHS worker, also became infected. 

A fourth person infection in England was spotted in December 2019 among a traveller from Nigeria.

Professor Heymann, who used to head the WHO’s emergencies department, said the virus may have been spreading undetected since these first cases were detected.

He said the outbreak may have taken off from a low level when ‘by chance it entered the population that is at present amplifying transmission’.

It comes as ministers are expected to tell those with an unusual rash — a tell-tale sign of monkeypox — to stay away from their pets.

Experts have raised alarm about the potential of the virus spreading to cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters.

There are fears this could allow monkeypox to become endemic among animals in Britain — as it is in Africa — and trigger sporadic outbreaks. 

UK health chiefs, who yesterday confirmed the number infected Britons had hit 78, are understood to be planning an online dashboard that tracks case numbers  — a method which sparked controversy during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist from the University of Nottingham, told MailOnline that the outbreak is still ‘relatively small’ and should be containable.

But he said it ‘makes sense’ to secure more jabs as an extra tool to limit the spread of the virus.

And Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that while the supply currently ‘seems adequate’ it is ‘worth checking how quickly and readily vaccine manufacture could be scaled up’. 

Britain is currently offering the Imvanex jab to anyone considered to be high-risk contacts of confirmed cases.

The strategy, known as ring vaccination, involves inoculating and monitoring close contacts to limit the spread of the disease.

EU health chiefs have called on other countries to make plans to implement a similar strategy.

Up to 1,000 doses of Imvanex have already been sent to NHS hospitals, as part of the first step of the inoculation plan. And the UK has an extra 3,500 doses on top of this.

Meanwhile, the UKHSA last week secured a deal for another 20,000 doses from Bavarian Nordic, Imvanex’s Danish manufacturer.

Paul Chaplin, chief executive of Bavarian Nordic, told the Wall Street Journal that it had received enquiries from dozens of countries. Stocks are ‘currently limited’, the paper reported. However, immediate demand can be met with doses kept in ‘storage’. 

Mr Chaplin’s comments suggest that the UK will get the extra doses within the next few weeks. 

But the UKHSA, tasked with procuring the jabs, has declined to comment on when the jabs will arrive. It raises questions about when the UK will actually get the vaccines.

Amid the secrecy over the UK’s deal, Germany yesterday announced it had bought 40,000 doses.

Meanwhile, the US has spent $299million (£240million) for 13million doses due to be delivered in 2023 and 2024, suggesting a cost of £18 per dose. 

American health chiefs said this was part of a standard and ongoing order for virus preparedness, although they admitted some may be used to respond to monkeypox.

Only one recent deal — following an imported monkeypox case from a Nigerian traveller in 2021 — to buy Imvanex is accessible on the UK Government’s website.

The ‘urgent requirement’, as it was listed, saw ministers pay just shy of £20,000 for roughly 3,200 doses, equating to around £6 per dose.

Professor Hunter told MailOnline the next two weeks are ‘crucial’ and if monkeypox cases continue to rise then we will not have enough vaccines to jab necessary groups. 

‘If cases are levelling off then it may be fine, but if it is rising we will likely need to vaccinate more widely, targeting particular groups,’ he said, pointing to MSM communities.

‘That is likely what people are thinking in the UKHSA,’ he said. 

Daisy Cooper MP told MailOnline: ‘It is critical that the Government is totally transparent about what preparations it is making to ensure that monkeypox does not become a serious threat to public health.

‘The UK’s scientists did a heroic job throughout the Covid pandemic and we should listen to them now. 

‘The experts are far better placed to know whether we should be planning for a wider vaccination effort than any politician.’

She said that if the Government started its inquiry into the Covid pandemic in 2020 then the UK ‘could have learnt lessons that would help us now, to prevent any further spread of the monkeypox virus’.

Health chiefs have warned monkeypox, a virus endemic in parts of Africa and is known for its rare and unusual rashes, bumps and lesions, could also spread to some pets and become endemic in Europe. Undated handout file image issued by the UK Health Security Agency of the stages of Monkeypox

However, some experts said the UK’s smallpox vaccine capacity should be sufficient to get the country through the outbreak. 

Professor Ball told MailOnline: ‘It doesn’t make financial sense to stockpile vaccines or treatments in the eventuality that you might get an outbreak.

‘These things have a limited shelf-life and you would be constantly wasting then replenishing stocks.

‘At the moment the outbreak is still relatively small, and this is a virus that should be relatively easy to contain through normal infection control practices — identifying those infected and isolating them, then identifying and monitoring their contacts.

‘Vaccines give us that extra help to control outbreaks and to reduce likelihood of serious disease. So it makes sense to try to secure more vaccine supplies.’

Professor Livermore told MailOnline that the UK’s current capacity of around 5,000 doses plus the 20,000 on order ‘looks adequate based on current case numbers’ and the ring vaccination model being followed.

He said: ‘There’s no evidence that monkeypox will spread rapidly among the general population. 

Keep away from your pet if you’ve got monkeypox! Patients are warned that stroking animals could spread disease further

Monkeypox patients will be told to keep their distance from family pets in official guidance to be issued later this week.

The advice from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will warn of a potential risk of human-to-animal transmission.

European health officials have already expressed concerns that animals on the Continent could become permanent reservoirs of disease if it is allowed to make the jump.

This would increase the odds of it becoming endemic in Europe. 

Now the UK’s Defra is drawing up guidelines in an attempt to limit the risk of monkeypox patients infecting the likes of cats, dogs and rabbits. 

There are also fears infected patients could contaminate their pet’s fur and the illness be passed on to others in their household.

Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association, said she believes the risk of infecting pets is low but was ‘supportive of a cautious approach’.

‘It would be a sensible decision to keep your distance from a pet while in quarantine,’ she said.

‘If I was diagnosed with monkeypox I would do whatever I could to limit contact, such as asking a friend or relative to take care of it.’

She added: ‘There is currently no evidence of transmission between humans and cats and dogs but we know rabbits and rodents are susceptible.

‘If you have concerns about your pets health – if they have a fever, respiratory issues, poor appetite or lethargy – speak to a vet.

‘The chances are it will be something other than monkeypox but it’s worth getting it checked.’  

‘It hasn’t expanded dramatically in West Africa, where it has been established in humans for several years.

‘The outbreak would not have received so much attention if it hadn’t come so soon after Covid.

‘It deserves watching. And it’s worth checking how quickly and readily vaccine manufacture could be scaled up. 

‘But I don’t see cause for major current concern on either the virus or the UK’s vaccine supply situation.’ 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control this week advised countries to review their supply of smallpox vaccines and develop immunisation plans.

But it warned nations against jabbing the wider gay and bisexual men communities, due to the limited supply and the risk/benefit ratio of doing so.

However, experts told MailOnline this is the next logical step in containing the virus if monkeypox cases continue to rise over the next fortnight.

Gay and bisexual men, along with female sex workers and genitourinary health workers — who deal with urinary and reproductive issues — should be offered the jab at that point, Professor Hunter said.

The vaccine, taken as two doses at least 28 days apart, can have a ‘significant protective effect’ if given within four days of exposure to a monkeypox case.

Although not purposefully made for monkeypox, data suggests it’s up to 85 per cent effective at preventing an infection because the two viruses are so similar.

The vaccines have a shelf life of up to five years if kept in ultra-cold freezers, while they last two years in normal freezers and eight weeks in a fridge after being thawed.

Bavarian Nordic last week revealed it had secured a deal with an unnamed country in Europe to supply the jab. 

Yesterday it announced another deal with another undisclosed nation.

It said deliveries will start ‘immediately’ to ensure a ‘rapid response’ to the current outbreak. 

The company, which has seen shares spike from around £19 to £23 in price over the last week, has not announced details of the deals or further orders.

Bavarian Nordic claimed it is working to get a ‘full overview of the demand’ and is in contact with governments who have requested doses.

A spokesperson said: ‘We cannot share any further details at this point of time other than we are doing our utmost to ensure supply of vaccines to governments both in the short and medium term.’

It comes as Wales today logged its first monkeypox infection, after seven more cases were logged in England yesterday. It brings Britain’s total to 79 since the first case in the ongoing outbreak was publicised on May 7.

Scotland has so far logged one monkeypox case, while no infections have been reported in Northern Ireland.

Officials stated a ‘notable proportion’ have occurred among gay and bisexual men but have not provided an exact breakdown. No gender or age details have been shared, either.   

Nineteen countries across the world – mainly in Europe – have now detected the smallpox-like virus over the past three weeks.

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